World war over water?

Building-Bridges“The world will soon be at war over water.” Not my prediction, but the title of an article carried in Newsweek in April, 2015.

In view of the current water woes facing several parts of Barbados and the increasing frustration being vented by persons suffering, this article provides interesting analysis of the dire situation confronting several parts of the world with regard to accessing fresh water.

With oil prices tumbling, it is also speculated that oil will be cheaper than water. The old adage that “one doesn’t miss the water until the well runs dry” has become a reality for hundreds on our island. Some have argued that abuse of our scarce water resources over years has led us to this point. Others say
poor management.

Whatever the cause, frustration has certainly set in, and those who have water constantly cannot really appreciate the anguish felt by those who don’t have it on a prolonged basis. The stories in the news recently provide harrowing accounts of what happens and can happen
without supply of clean, potable water being available.

Lack of definitive statements by the authorities and a perception of no immediate solutions all add to the growing frustration and provide a recipe for greater anxiety and anger. Opposition Leader Mia Mottley calls it a national crisis that threatens national security, while Minister of Water Resources Dr David Estwick says he is focused on getting lasting solutions.

Whichever way we look at it, the country must solve the water woes. Workable solutions are being proposed by different individuals and all must be considered in reaching the best conclusion.

James Fergusson writes in that Newsweek article: “The world is at war over water. Goldman Sachs describes it as ‘the petroleum of the next century’. Disputes over water tend to start small and local –– for instance, with the sort of protests that drought-stricken São Paolo has experienced this year. But minor civil unrest can quickly mushroom, as the bonds of civilization snap.”

Interesting start to an article that goes into several parts of the world and shows the conflicts and potential conflicts that emerge due to limited access to water.

Mr Fergusson reminds us: “The revolution against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began this way, when youths of the southern Syrian town of Daraa, angry at the local governor’s corrupt allocation of scarce reservoir water, were caught spraying anti-establishment graffiti. Their arrest and torture were the final straw for the tribes from which the youths came. It was a very similar story in Yemen, whose revolution began in 2011 in Taiz, the most water-stressed city in that country.”

But what is even more interesting is his analysis that has led him to see groups like ISIS and other terror-related organizations being symptoms of social malfunction. Poor governance and not providing basic adequate services like electricity and water lead to distress and unrest.

Even these terror groups, he points out, recognizes that political power rests on the ability to supply its people with adequate water and so they have sought to consolidate their power in areas of Iraq and Syria that have water supplies. The key to their defeat will rest in interrupting this supply. Turkey started to interrupt this supply to ISIS and was threatened by them.

Turkey controls significant amounts of water going into that region; and, with more dams coming on stream, Turkey will have even more control.

“The father of modern Turkey could not have foreseen how completely his country’s ‘blue gold’ would one day replace oil as the region’s most important resource,” a point made by the writer.

Iraq’s oil industry requires 1.8 billion cubic metres of water a year in order to function, and hydrologists in Sweden recently suggested that by 2040, the volume of water being extracted from the mighty Tigris and Euphrates –– rivers that once delineated and sustained the cradle of civilization –– could be so great that they no longer reach the sea.

From the Middle East to China to Africa, Mr Fergusson has documented in this article the situation regarding water resources and how billions are being spent to capture the limited water and safeguard it. Over-harvesting, pollution, drought, climate change are all impacting the water resources of the world. Increasing world population also adds to the problem of finding enough water to sustain life.

The writer concludes his article with “the grand-daddy of all water conflicts” as he puts it. He writes: “Israel, a state founded on Ben-Gurion’s dream of ‘making the desert bloom’, diverted the River Jordan half a century ago, east and southwards towards the Negev Desert, via a canal called the National Water Carrier. The Dead Sea has lost a third of its surface area as a direct consequence, and the River Jordan of biblical antiquity has become a muddy trickle in a ditch.

“The reason Israel still occupies the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967, is because that is where the Jordan rises. All this has come at the expense of the Palestinians, who accuse Israel of manipulating water supply to suppress them. Some 85 per cent of all the water in the West Bank goes to Israel, according to some estimates.

“The Palestinian Water Authority says that Israelis consume seven times more water, per capita, than Palestinians: a spur, if ever there was one, for a resumption of the Intifada. Elsewhere in the world, even the hottest conflicts over water supply have been resolved through negotiation. But with the recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned on the outright rejection of a two-state solution to the region’s troubles, the prospect of a fairer water-sharing arrangement for Palestine look more remote than ever.”

Water has certainly become the buzzword in Barbados for 2016. It should bring home the point to all that we must act responsibly with our water. Wastage cannot be an option, and storage by all possible means a solution. Like with so many others things in our society, we must all see the importance of using our limited resources wisely, and avoid excesses.

We must pray and hope that a solution is soon put in place that adequately resolves the woes for those who
are suffering.

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. 

One Response to World war over water?

  1. Tony Webster January 20, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you Mr. Bulbulia for a very interesting article, providing much food for thought, if not outright worry. Food, particularly those in positions of authority, and of responsibility for such matters.

    Our concerns, however, should go a bit further. Much as Isupoortyour call for each householder/ business, or other significant “user” entity, to provide for adequate storage, we ( regulatory and policy-making folks, plus each individual household, have a long stretch to guard against our old friend aedes Egyptii, yes, the same villain responsible for thefoursetotypes of dengue, plus chickungya, plus the new kid-in-town, Zika virus. In addition to the misery caused by the first-named five diseases, thezika also poses a severe threat tofoetuses, by way of permanent brain damage. All this requires a fundamental reason-think, in conjunction with any public push to store more water. The New England Jounral of Medicine, has just 16 Jan. 2016, released a study which pin-pointed the initial outbreak of Zika, to Ugandan citizens who some few years back,had water shortages…and took up home talks with a vengeance!
    Check current front-page on their site.


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